A “Community Networking Event on Homelessness” will be held at Mound City Bank Motor Branch, 90 S. Second St., Platteville, Tuesday, Oct. 15 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
The City of Platteville is in the process of redeveloping the block where the Grant County Homelessness Task Force and the Southwest Wisconsin Community Action Program maintain a two-bedroom emergency shelter apartment for homeless families.
“When we get to the point of taking down our existing building, we will look at our option to continue having a homeless shelter in another Platteville location,” said SWCAP Executive Director Wally Orzechowski. “The dilemma is that SWCAP owns the current building where the emergency shelter is located. When that building is torn down, where will our homeless people go? Will SWCAP have the resources for a new building?
“We have some generous churches here that house homeless people in their basements. Still, can Platteville better provide for their most vulnerable people and community members?”
Homelessness is more prevalent in Platteville than most people realize.
Jackie, 38, lived in Illinois and then in Indiana with her husband of 11 years and their four children. They had a nice home and were able to provide for their children. But when her husband lost his job with FedEx two years ago, their life began to change. As a dental assistant, she could not support her family with her sole income.
She and her husband sold everything except their clothes. They lived with relatives while her husband looked for work while doing odd jobs such as moving furniture and meal delivery. They saved money and eventually rented a place in a poor neighborhood, as this was all they could afford. During all of this turmoil, Jackie became pregnant. After the delivery of their last child, Jackie did not have any paid maternity leave and needed to physically recover after birth. Therefore, she could not bring in an income. Once again, they became homeless.
Homelessness caused immense stress and separation for their family because relatives did not have enough room for all of them.
“When I was separated from my family, I was constantly worried about their well-being, making it difficult to move forward,” she said.
Family brought Jackie to Platteville; they told her Platteville might be a good place to start over. The struggle came with finding permanent housing. Searching for housing in Platteville was discouraging for Jackie, and she was unaware of available resources. She did qualify for government assistance, but said people treated her differently — whether it was dirty looks when paying for groceries with Food Share, or by property owners not willing to rent to her because she was on government assistance. She qualified for subsidized housing, but was refused due to poor credit. This confused Jackie because one would think homeless people may have credit problems. She was told that there were no more funds for Section 8 housing, which offers housing payment to private landlords. She was in a small town with little resources and fewer contacts.
Things began to change when she met the school social worker and member of the Grant County Task Force on Homelessness, Nancy Olson, who came into contact with Jackie when Jackie enrolled her children as “homeless.” With the help of SWCAP, Olson arranged emergency housing for Jackie and her family.
“In Platteville, we do whatever is necessary to remove barriers for children facing homelessness to ensure that they receive a quality and equitable education,” said Olson.
Olson also directed Jackie to places to get clothing, food, and diapers. Olson passed her name around and helped her to obtain gainful employment.
Jackie and her family now have secured a suitable home. The task force assisted Jackie with the security deposit and first month’s rent. With high rent in a college town, many working families struggle with the expenses of securing suitable housing. Stable housing and gainful employment for both Jackie and her husband, has dramatically reduced the financial stress.
“I feel empowered now that my family is with me in one home; we can handle anything; there are no limits to what we can accomplish,” said Jackie, who works about 35 hours a week while raising her children. Her husband works about 45 hours a week at two jobs. Juggling work schedules to be home with their children assists with child care costs.
Though they would like to see each other more, it is a necessary sacrifice at this time to meet their everyday expenses. Their life is simple, and they do without a lot material goods. For example, Jackie’s family does not have a car and she has walked five miles one way to work on various occasions. Jackie is working to secure a vehicle before winter through SWCAP’s Work-n-Wheels program.
Despite the past hardships, Jackie’s children are doing well. She has a straight “A” student in the Platteville School District, and an older child works 30 hours a week at a locally owned Platteville business. Though Jackie arrived in Platteville homeless, with a lot of hard work and with the help of the task force and SWCAP, she has turned her life around in four months.
“When we arrived in Platteville, we did not even have enough money to buy tissue paper,” she said. “I have always been a very hard worker, and a strong believer in focusing on what I do have and on my future goals. Still, it was life changing to come across strong-minded women on the Platteville task force that did not judge me, believed in me, and encouraged me. With the strong support I received from the task force, it gave me inspiration and hopes to keep moving forward. As a woman facing the challenges of being homeless, it was very meaningful to have support from other women on the task force that understood some of my hardships.”
Because of her positive experience with the Grant County Task Force on Homelessness, Jackie now sits on their advisory board.
“Housing is a hidden problem here in Platteville because many people ‘couch surf’ and sleep with various family and friends,” said Valerie Gill-Mast, a member of the task force. “I believe that if the good people of Platteville knew about the problem of homelessness that is pervasive in their community, they would help in various and meaningful ways.”
Gill-Mast said families with a significant “housing burden” or percentage of income devoted to housing costs are at a greater risk of homelessness, and the college town of Platteville, with its high rent prices, is especially at risk.
Olson estimates the school district has 50 homeless children every year. According to SWCAP, within the past year Grant County had 211 homeless children and 199 adults.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, children represented 27 percent of the homeless population utilizing shelters and transitional housing programs in Wisconsin.
Tuesday’s event will focus on creating broader and more diverse community engagement on homelessness; developing better communication and coordination among those concerned about these issues; improving understanding of the realities of homelessness in Grant County and the Platteville area; sharing information about proven, successful models and solutions working in other counties; and forming an ongoing community leadership group to carry the work forward addressing homelessness.
The task force is seeking participation from all areas of the Platteville community and representatives from stakeholder groups including business, faith-based organizations, service providers, community members, service clubs, and law enforcement, elected officials, professionals, and people who are homeless or formerly homeless.
To RSVP or for more information, contact task force chair Bev Doll of UW–Extension, 723-2125, firstname.lastname@example.org. More information is available at https://sites.google.com/site/grantcountyhomeless/, or on Facebook under Grant County Task Force on Homelessness.